Those were the days.

News this week of the death of former Sen. Birch Bayh inevitably brought back details of his political career, including the opposing candidates he faced at the polls.

While Bayh was elected in 1962 by defeating GOP curmudgeon Homer Capehart, his re-election campaign in 1968 gave Hoosier voters a remarkable choice. 

Bayh, the Democrat, was challenged by Republican William Ruckelshaus, an intelligent and straight-arrow honest attorney from Indianapolis. 

For voters, it was a no-lose situation at the polls. Both candidates were men of integrity.

Bayh won that contest, and Bill Ruckelshaus would go on to distinguish himself as the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Ruckelshaus would later earn a place in the history books through his principled resignation during the Saturday Night Massacre during the height of President Richard Nixon’s Watergate nightmare. Nixon had issued an order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox, but Ruckelshaus and attorney general Elliot Richardson both stepped down rather than follow that order.

Six years after the Bayh-Ruckelshaus election, Indiana voters had an equally amazing choice between two quality candidates. Bayh’s opponent in 1974 was Richard Lugar, who had built an impressive record as mayor of Indianapolis.

Think about that for a moment: Voters had to choose between a senator who had already built a distinguished record in the arena of Constitutional reform and a man who would go on, a few years later, to become a giant of the Senate.

The caliber and the character of those candidates were beyond reproach. 

And they were a far cry from the grifters, egomaniacs and single-issue shills that constitute far too much of today’s crop of would-be legislators.

Will we ever see their likes again? For the country’s sake, we certainly hope so. — J.R.